Elizabeth "Eliza" Orzeszkowa, née Pawłowski, was born to a family of Polish gentry in Milkowszczyzna, today in Belarus. Her father was a lawyer and intellectual who died when she was three years old. The family moved to nearby Grodno (present-day Hrodna). Eliza began writing stories at an early age. From 1852 to 1857, she studied at a convent school in Warsaw. In 1858, at age 16, she married Piotr Orzeszko, a Polish nobleman and landowner twice her age. He was arrested and exiled to Siberia after the January Uprising of 1863 against the Russian Empire. The couple were legally separated and the marriage was annulled in 1869. She opened a bookshop and publishing house in Grodno. In 1878, she published her first novel, Meir Ezofowicz. The Russian authorities closed down her business in 1882, and she was under police surveillance for five years. Nevertheless, she was a prolific writer who produced some 30 novels and more than 120 short stories, sketches, novellas, and plays, nearly all of them dealing with social issues in Poland under Russian rule, including independence, education, marriage, and the role of women. Her most famous book was Nad Niemnem (Over the Niemen), published in 1888.
She eventually remarried in 1894 to Stanisław Nahorski, after a 30-year relationship. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905 together with Henryk Sienkiewicz.